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November 17, 2018
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The spirit of Alzheimer’s learning

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
October 26, 2018

Part I

With one in 10 people over the age of 65 living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, nearly everyone is touched by this disease in their lifetime. What’s more, 16.1 million Americans provide unpaid care for someone with Alzheimer’s.

Every 65 seconds, someone in America develops the disease. Every three seconds, someone in the world develops the disease. Through understanding and education, we will be better prepared to care for our loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia disorder.

Dementia is a syndrome that can be caused by a number of progressive disorders that affect memory, thinking, behavior and the ability to perform everyday tasks. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

Though the precise cause is not known, most experts agree that Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias likely develop as a result of multiple factors, such as advanced age, family history, cardiovascular disease, or a history of head trauma, although this is not always the case. We will discuss early onset later in the article.  Due to the vast broadband of information, this will be a two-piece series listing several resources throughout. 

Early signs of dementia

Contrary to popular belief, memory loss is not a natural part of aging. Occasionally forgetting a name or misplacing the car keys is normal. But significant memory problems that disrupt daily life, such as getting lost on the way home from a familiar grocery store or developing an inability to keep track of bills, may be early symptoms of dementia.

According to Dr. Jane Potter from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, some early signs of dementia may include:

Difficulty remembering names and recent events

Apathy

Depression

Dementia Symptoms

The Alzheimer’s Association has identified the following 10 signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Memory loss that disrupts daily life.

Challenges in planning or solving problems.

Difficulty completing familiar tasks.

Confusion with time or place.

Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.

New problems with words in speaking or writing.

Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.

Decreased or poor judgment.

Withdrawal from work or social activities.

Changes in mood and personality.

Be sure to discuss any concerns you may have about these signs with a physician.

Dementia Stages

While dementia affects each individual differently, everyone tends to follow a general pattern of decline defined by stages. Understanding the different stages can help you know what to expect as the disease progresses. It can also help you plan accordingly for the additional care that your loved one will likely need along the way.

Dementia experts typically group dementia into three main stages:

Early stage dementia

Middle stage dementia

End stage dementia

Read more for descriptions of each stage.

Lewy Body Dementia

This type of dementia occurs when deposits of a protein called “Lewy Bodies” build up in the brain and disrupt the brain’s normal functioning. The protein deposits were named after the scientist who first discovered their connection to dementia.

Someone with Lewy Body dementia may exhibit symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer’s, including memory problems, poor judgment and confusion. Additionally, Lewy Body dementia symptoms may include excessive daytime drowsiness, hallucinations, tremors and a lack of facial expression.

The traditional dementia medications may be helpful; however, persons with Lewy Body dementia are often quite sensitive to psychotropic medications.

The original name of the US Alzheimer’s Association was the “Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorder Association.” Despite that early nod to the “related” or “other” dementias, for many years almost all the public’s focus was on Alzheimer’s disease, the leading cause of dementia. Approximately 60 percent of all dementia cases are Alzheimer’s and Alzheimer’s classic symptoms affecting memory, thinking, language and judgment are well known.

So let’s take a look at the “other” dementias that affect hundreds of thousands, if not millions of persons worldwide.

Vascular dementia develops when impaired blood flow to parts of the brain deprives cells of oxygen. In one form, a series of very small strokes or “infarcts” block small blood vessels. Individually, these little strokes do not cause major symptoms, but over time their combined effect becomes noticeable, which is one reason why this type of dementia was formerly called “multi-infarct dementia.”

Most of the “memory medications” used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (the cholinesterase inhibitors like Aricept) have also been shown to help individuals with vascular dementia. Lifestyle changes that support good heart health and reduce stroke risk may also be helpful.

Mixed dementia is a common condition in which Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia occur at the same time. The treatment is similar to vascular dementia.

Parkinson’s disease can sometimes be accompanied by dementia. In fact, dementia occurs in 15-30 percent of persons with Parkinson’s disease, usually appearing in the later stages of this chronic brain and nervous system disorder. Classic symptoms of Parkinson’s include tremors and shakiness, stiffness, difficulty walking and controlling muscles, lack of facial expression and impaired speech.

Parkinson’s medications help with physical manifestations of the disease, but may have a side effect of added confusion

Frontotemporal dementia (often called “frontal-lobe dementia”) is a rare disorder that affects the front (frontal lobes) and the sides (temporal lobes) of the brain. Symptoms include a more rapid onset of symptoms than Alzheimer’s disease, as well as changes in personality, judgment, planning and social functioning. Individuals may make rude or off-color remarks to family or strangers. They may make unwise decisions about finances or personal matters. This is the only dementia that impacts more men than women. The peak age is 55-65.

There are no current treatments specifically for frontal-lobe dementia. The traditional memory medications, cholinesterase inhibitors such as Aricept, may make this form of dementia worse and are usually not recommended. Antidepressants may be helpful.

Accurate diagnosis is important.

A thorough medical examination can usually identify the specific dementia diagnosis. Knowing the diagnosis can help family members better understand and cope with their situation. For example, if a person with frontal-lobe dementia makes hurtful remarks, a well-prepared family member may better take the remarks in stride. If a person with Lewy Body dementia is talking to “little people” in the room, a caregiver who understands that this is common will know not to overreact.

Early onset dementia: “A new assessment of data by the Alzheimer’s Association focuses light on a younger generation of individuals who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia in contrast to the widely held view that these diseases only afflict older Americans.

Newly analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Survey (HRS) indicates that there may be as many as a half a million Americans under age 65 who have dementia or a cognitive impairment at a level of severity consistent with dementia. Combining this with data from other studies, the Alzheimer’s Association calculates that there are between 220,000 and 640,000 people with early onset Alzheimer’s or related dementia in the U.S. today.

This report incorporates the new analysis of data from the Health and Retirement Survey (HRS) with a survey conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association and in-depth, personal interviews, all of which paint a picture of the early onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia among a hidden generation of Americans under age 65. The conclusions drawn from these new data, shed much needed light on the vulnerability and unique circumstances faced by this generation of Americans, most of whom are baby boomers, who will change the face of disease and health care in coming decades. The survey research includes extensive personal testimony from people with Alzheimer’s and together with the other reports offers policy makers new insights that may help them address health and long term care needs over the next decade.

The study concludes that not nearly enough is known about the unique characteristics of early onset diseases or the problems faced by those who have them. There also remains an inadequate amount of data available on the actual number of early onset individuals and their condition. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends a number of steps be taken in order to meet the needs of the early onset generation of individuals with dementia.” This from the Alzheimer’s Association and more in-depth information can be found on their website www.alz.org.

Next week we will conclude this discussion.  I would like to personally thank everyone who came out last Sat. Oct. 20 to the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Petaluma at the Schoenberg Park. Thank you for all who walked, supports and signed advocacy cards! One day we will have the first survivor of Alzheimer’s disease!

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’s love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.